Sexual assaulters are keenly aware, even smug, that their victims will not report them and if they do, the odds of the assaulter being convicted or suffering any long-standing consequences is extremely low. Sexual assault, sexual harassment, and child sexual abuse are crimes that thrive on silence due to shame and fear. The courageous people who do come forward are abandoned by friends, families, schools, co-workers, and churches. They are revictimized by law enforcement, lawyers, the media, and trolls.
Why on earth would anyone voluntarily subject themselves to that additional pain and suffering when what they are going through is already unbearable. As someone who has been through it, I can tell you why I did and why my hope is that I can help others do the same – to save others. It is the most common reason most victims come forward. The second most common reason is to seek justice which validates their story and serves consequences to the assaulter.
The paradox victims face is that to save others and seek justice they must speak up and report what happened to them when that is the very last thing they want to do at the time. They want to pretend it didn’t happen, they don’t want people to know it happened, and they want to forget it happened. The problem is most states have a statute of limitations that requires victims to report in a timely manner.
It is very common for victims not to disclose what happened to anyone until much later in life after they have had time process only to find that they are too late to seek justice due to the statute of limitations.
When victims take 10, 20, or 30 years to come forward, as they did in the widely publicized cases of Bill Cosby and the Archdiocese in The Keepers docuseries, people who are not trauma-informed or educated in sexual assault question the validity of the claim. The victims are called liars and gold diggers.
More than 60 women have come forward accusing Bill Cosby of sexually violating them. Out of 60, only one was within the statute of limitations. This is a prime example of how drastically different the outcome could have been had the victims came forward sooner. Every victim that comes forward helps to validate the stories of the victims that come before or after them.
Quite often the District Attorney won’t even try a case if there is only one victim. This happened in my daughter’s case when she reported a predator who molested her. She was the only victim to have come forward so the DA did not press charges until a year later when another victim came forward. Had that girl not come forward, he could have gotten away with it. Turns out he had many victims over a period of seven years that could have reported to the authorities and stopped him before he got to my daughter. Who knows how many children could have been spared.
There was never any doubt in my mind that we were going to report. I knew it would be hard and stressful for my daughter and myself. I felt a strong civic duty to stop the predator from hurting others despite how hard it would be. It was harder than I expected and I would do it again.
I applaud Andrea Constand for being brave enough to fight this battle on her own and respect the Prosecutor willing to take the case to trial, especially against an adored celebrity like Bill Cosby. Had Constand come forward sooner it could have made a much stronger case. Had other victims came forward within the statute of limitations it would have made a very strong case and much longer sentence had Cosby been convicted. Each victim adds to the amount of prison time the criminal is sentenced to serve.
Many of us are fighting for eliminating or greatly extending statutes of limitations for these types of cases. The damage that is done to the victims has no time limits, therefore, there shouldn’t be any time limits to hold an assaulter accountable. However, changing the statute of limitations will not always change the juror’s questions as to why the victims didn’t come forward sooner. We are not going to be able to educate the entire public or every potential juror on the psychological and valid reasons why each victim comes forward only when they are ready.
To remedy this, we need to support and encourage victims to report sooner rather than later. We cannot guarantee justice will be served but the potential to save others remains. Research shows that the majority of sexual assaulters have multiple victims. Child molesters have an average of 117 victims and do not stop until the day they die. The outcome we can guarantee victims is their words and actions will impact others. The more we speak up and take action the more we encourage others to do the same. There is strength in numbers and every story matters. I encourage victims to tell their stories and report to authorities, you never know how many victims you spared.